A step in the right direction
Jarol took a deep breath in. It took all her inner strength not to look in where Ma'Kan had been a moment ago, before being beamed out back to a safe location; she knew she couldn't, as that would condemn the girl.
It was chaos, everyone gathered around the body, someone called for a medic, but to her relief another voice said it was too late for a medic. She caught Daset's sight; his face expressed concern, but no surprise. He stared at her and after a moment his mouth moved: you did it
. She didn't deny, didn't confirm. She needed his support to go on with this, and she still wasn't sure where his loyalties lay – with the Cardassia or the Directorate.
He looked away and then pushed among the crowd to the body. She turned on her heel and left the hall. It was done.
Ten months earlier
“I'll never understand why he thought I was the right person. Why he insisted that I should support them?” Brenok chewed his food and spoke at the same time, sending flying pieces of food to the table in front of him.
“Arenn, you know Daset from the worst side,” Jarol replied. “I had a chance to see the other side shortly before he left. He isn't a bad man. He just treats his duty seriously, too seriously, taking away all joy from the service. I know you were his victim on more than one occasion, and I hated him for that, but seems like in spite of how he treated you, he always respected you as an officer. He never broke you, you never complained. And you are the second in command aboard one of first warships, which started firing at the Dominion during the Battle of Cardassia. You are a hero and they need heroes to support them, so that they could win the elections, or whatever their goal is.”
“Elections...” Brenok repeated.
“I find the whole idea of people going and in a mass deciding who should be in power strange at least. The public doesn't understand the needs of power, the rules that... well, rule the power. How can a peasant like me know who should lead the Cardassian Union?” Brenok smiled at that; he never thought of her as a peasant. “And then a summary of those opinions of people, who know nothing, is a final decision about our ruling body? And the opinion of foolish masses would matter more than opinion of not many intelligent individuals, as there are always more fools than geniuses. This is sick.”
“It is. Just as this... temporary government,” Brenok nodded.
“Government,” she snorted. “Federation puppets. They want us to become like them, to apply their rules in hour home. I don't like it. I don't like it at all.”
“So maybe that whole Directorate is not a bad idea?” Brenok wondered and then shook his head; he didn't believe it himself.
“The system was right, the people were corrupt,” she said and Brenok realised it was in fact the same opinion, which Daset had expressed a few months ago in Demoks' house.
“So you think we should go back to the old way, but a little differently? How differently?”
“Well,” she put her fork away, “first we'd have to change our policy toward outer worlds. No more Bajors.”
“We need outer worlds to provide our resources.”
“Yes, but do we have to tear those resources out of their throats along with the throats themselves? Can't we ask politely? Can't we pay? Offer our services? Protection? There are lots of little, weak worlds near Tzenkethi border, they are between us and them. Scared. Terrified. Let's tell them: join our Union, we will protect you, they won't touch you. You'll be safe with us. We just need you to contribute to our wealth and share your resources. As much as you could spare and not a tad more would be taken from you by force. You can keep your rulers, but they have to file their reports annually, that's all.”
Brenok stopped eating and kept looking at her. “And I was told I was an idealist,” he said.
“I just think,” she was a bit hurt by his remark, “that it's our enemies that should fear us, not our own denizens.”
“That makes sense,” he admitted. “So, do we take power and make new Cardassia?”
“Maybe later. Now finish your food,” she spoke in motherly tone of voice, took her fork and resumed eating.
It was cold. Jarol didn't like cold, no Cardassian liked cold. But apart from being cold the room seemed to be pleasant. An oval table was standing in the middle with chairs on each longer side, three for one team, three for the other. She motioned to her militia troops and ordered them to line up by the wall, mirroring the same positions the Romulans had taken. She has never seen a Romulan up close and now she was just about to face three of them.
Gul Madred motioned toward the table and sat in the chair in the middle. Jarol and Brenok followed him. Her place was on the right side of the Gul, opposite a Romulan woman about her age. Brenok sat opposite a man about twice his age. Between those two sat even older Romulan, with a smug expression on his face.
“I am Admiral Tebok,” he said. “This is Commander Karameth and Subcommander Tarak,” he introduced the woman and man respectively.
“Gul Madred, my aides Gul Jarol, Glinn Brenok,” Madred introduced their group. “Let me use this opportunity to express...”
“Yes,” Tebok interrupted him. “We know you, Cardassians, like to talk and are able to produce long speeches, however I'd appreciate if we proceeded directly to our matters, without unnecessary metaphors.”
“Fine,” Madred said and Jarol was sure she heard a shadow of irritation in his voice.
Both leaders activated their padds and started talking. Madred had told Jarol clearly that she was not to interrupt. She and her aide were part of the delegation, as highest ranking Cardassian officers in the sector, but she had no experience in conducting such talks. She fully agreed with him and was rather relieved she was off the hook. She was there just to be there – her only task was to support the Gul by her intimidating presence.
She wasn't sure if her presence was intimidating anyone, so she took the opportunity to take a better look at the Romulan Commander.
The woman's hair was cropped close to her skull in the typical Romulan fashion. Her dark eyes were observing Gul Madred – his every move, his body language – sometimes switching to Jarol and Brenok, who sat almost motionlessly. Her puffy uniform made her look big, but Jarol was sure the Romulan's silhouette was rather slim, just as her face.
Her aide on the other hand was a chubby man. He kept making notes on his padd, glancing up at his Admiral from time to time. Jarol had checked their bios before arriving to the outpost, so she knew those two served together longer than she had Brenok at her side. If anything went wrong, if the talks failed, they would be formidable opponents in a battle. Not mentioning their huge, green, resembling bird ship. Roumar was still licking her wounds and even in the top condition she wouldn't be able to stand up to a D'Deridex class warbird. Not alone anyway.
She didn't pay much attention to the negotiations, but from those few moments she concentrated on what was being said she knew it wasn't going well. Tebok was refusing literally each argument and proposition Madred had to offer and she clearly saw the Gul was loosing his patience. She didn't blame him, as so was she.
She looked at the Romulan troops lined up by the wall. They stared blankly in front of them (or maybe at their Cardassian counterparts), like statues. No one was armed – that was one of most important rules during the negotiations. She imagined Cardassians in Romulan prisons and camps, under cruel watch of guards not unlike those men and women here. She knew they couldn't leave them in those camps.
Yes, women. There were many women here. Cardassian Guard didn't forbid females to join their ranks, but it was rather rare. There probably weren't more than fifty, maybe one hundred female Guls, maybe a little more of lower ranking officers. Women were supposed to be scientists and military career wasn't an easy choice for someone, who should be at home with her children and elders. It was possible to combine those two, she knew that from the experience, but it was a challenge. She was going to face that challenge soon. Again. And she looked forward to it.
A raised eyebrow on the Romulan Commander's face made her realise her little, private thoughts about her baby crept out to her face in a form of a smile. She just raised her eye ridges, ignoring surprise on the other woman's face and smiled a little wider. Karameth lowered her eyebrow and smiled back, nodding slightly. Jarol wondered if she had any children.
Madred rose, and Jarol and Brenok followed his example. The Romulan Admiral rose too. None of them said anything and then Madred headed for the exit. His face expression was telling everything.
Brenok didn't enjoy the prospect of co-operating with Romulans, but these two seemed reasonable. He also clearly felt Karameth's discomfort when she had to stay in one chamber with him. He was sure she dealt with Cardassians before and it was nothing pleasant. He was nothing but polite to her, but nonetheless felt her antipathy toward him. Or maybe it was just her distrust, after all the war ended only short time ago.
“And where exactly is Gul Jarol?” Tarak asked one evening.
“She's on an extended shore leave,” Brenok explained.
“Did something happen? It's rather sudden,” Karameth commented.
“No, but it was necessary to send her back home.”
He didn't want to go into details. After all it wasn't their business and Jarol having a baby had nothing to do with their work. Their task was to plan releasing Cardassian prisoners and that was what they should concentrate on.
“How can you read that weird, chaotic writing?” Tarak looked at Brenok, raising his slanted eyebrow and looking over Glinn's shoulder at the Cardassian display.
“I wonder how you can understand your sentences.”
“What do you mean?”
“You write linear sentences, right?”
“That's right,” Tarak confirmed with a nod.
“Well, how do you know which word is attached to which word? I'll give you an example. Let's take an easy sentence. 'I really like red leaf tea'. The word 'really' is attached to 'like', see?” he pointed to the right words on his screen, which he typed to visualise his explanations. “It is like that because 'really' brings additional meaning to 'like'. 'Like' gives additional information to 'I', so it is directly behind 'I'. Now, you have here the word 'tea', because that is what you like. Below 'tea' is 'red leaf', as additional information for the word 'tea'. If you'd like to add 'hot' and make it 'I really like hot red leaf tea', you write 'hot' above 'tea' word.”
Tarak kept nodding. “Interesting. But how do you know if the first word should be written vertically or horizontally?”
“Oh, that is a matter of stylistics and context,” Brenok explained.
“And that.. um... circle here?”
“It denotes beginning of a paragraph.”
“And these dots?”
“Oh, they usually emphasise a word, or point to the most important word or notion in the sentence.”
“Like underlining? We underline words.”
“Yes, probably,” Brenok wasn't sure what underlining was for, so he didn't know if the comparison was really correct.
“You said 'usually',” Tarak gave him an asking look.
“Dots, as we call them dims, have also other functions, but this would require a longer lecture.”
“I see. You know, Brenok, languages are a passion of mine, so if you don't mind, I'd like to ask you more questions at some later time.”
“Wouldn't a database answer all your questions?”
“I prefer to converse with a real living, breathing person.”
Tarak smiled and Brenok smiled back. If circumstances were different, he could befriend this pointy-eared man.
They went back to work.
Brenok looked tired. His eyes seemed to be deeper in his ridges than normally and his skin had a pinkish hue, which didn't indicate anything good. She worried about him, but didn't know if he'd tell her the truth if she asked.
“How are you?” he asked, smiling. “How are you both doing?”
“We're great. Laran is an adorable, sweet being and everybody loves him. He's the first baby born to this family after the war, so even more precious.”
Brenok smiled. “When can I see him?” he asked.
Jarol motioned to someone and her father entered the frame, carrying an infant. He smiled to Brenok. “Here he is, son. He could use some singing,” Darok said.
The Glinn felt warm wave in his heart. He didn't think anyone would call him 'son' again, and never expected to sing for any baby. Warm wave was quickly replaced by icy pain.
“He looks like a copy of his father,” he said.
Little Laran indeed looked like a miniature of Demok, with the exception of eye ridges. They weren't as round as Demok's, but they weren't slanted like Jarol's; it was something in between, in oval shape.
Brenok thought it was good it was a boy. If Jarol's baby were a girl, his soul would break into millions of little pieces right here, right now.
“Get some rest,” he said, trying to end the connection. He wanted to do it delicately so that she wouldn't realise he was suffering.
“How are the Romulans?” she asked.
“Reasonable. Karameth is difficult at times, but the subcommander is a nice guy.”
“And how's Madred treating you?”
“I think he's happy leaving me all the details to work with the Romulans. Most of the time he is in his quarters, talking to someone over the comm. I hardly see him.”
“Does he have a problem with a Glinn running the warship?”
“No, he didn't show me any disrespect at least. I think he understands that you had to leave, and even if he was unhappy at the beginning, he doesn't mind any more. I have proven I can handle the Romulans, he acknowledges my reports without comments. Sometimes has a suggestion or two, but that's exactly what they are – suggestions.”
“I'm glad to hear that. Keep my ship safe.”
“Absolutely,” he smiled and was painfully aware this smile revealed all his feelings.
She observed him for a short while and then said: “I'll be with you soon.”
“Don't worry about me,” he replied and disconnected. His eyes burned with tears he didn't want to release. He rose and went to retrieve the object, which became his best friend recently. They spent many evenings together these days.
He just didn't know if he tried to drown the pain in his heart or shoulder.
He would never again hold his little girl in his arms. He would never smell Asra's hair. He was scared. He had nothing left, no family, no future, not even a home, not even a wall. He felt he was drowning... in his pain... in his tears... in kanar... He wanted to forget, stop his brain from working, from reminding him every day that he was returning to a cold, empty bed, that no one waited for him to return home, because he had no home. How could he go on? Where was his past? There was nothing to look back at. Nothing to look forward. He wanted to die.
It was his fault! He did it! He provoked them and they killed his family for this. They destroyed everything that had any value in his life, because this bastard decided to rebel and brought it all on his little girl. If they wouldn't kill him, he would strangle him with his bare hands!
He rolled on the floor, weeping. Forgive me. Please, forgive me.
He choked on his own tears. He couldn't breathe. He didn't want to breathe. Take me, take the air out of my lungs and let me join my family. I am nothing without them. An empty shell. I don't want to live... I don't know how...
He laid on the floor in embryo position, absently scratching the scar on his neck ridge.